Letter: Some Questions About Housing Growth And Development In Amherst As The Time For Reapproving The Master Plan Approaches
The following letter was sent to the Amherst Planning Board, the Amherst Town Council, the Amherst Planning Department and the Amherst Town Manager on August 22, 2022.
Amherst has had a master plan for decades, and still it seems unclear about how and when it will be implemented, and how much it shall be adhered to, not to mention well understood.So as the town approaches that periodic time to approve that plan again, I hope we (meaning town council and planning board) will ask and answer some important questions.
Here’s a few:
What does “relatively high-density development” and “densification” mean, specifically? How dense is too dense, in our neighborhoods and downtown residential? What are the specific costs and benefits of being more or less dense? Can the goals of densification (ie: affordability, solving a national housing shortage) be achieved without endangering the character of neighborhoods, and drastically altering our mixed-use town center? Are there limits to growth that we need to consider?
What are the rights and responsibilities of both town and gown? Is the purpose of our town to serve the state university that is located here? Is UMass paying its way and taking care of their students? Have we considered the problem of mixed loyalties (aka conflicts of interest) because of the number of town officials that work for UMass?
How can a more effective system of gathering public input create better ideas and innovations? How can the town’s divisiveness be healed? What structural changes in town government would better ensure transparency and collaboration? How can we lessen the politics in our government? How can we better harness the brain-power of so-called naysayers?
What is the fair balance between the needs of commercial landowners and community members? How can we create a best possible shared vision of what Amherst should look and feel like, born in a fair and inclusive process? If we were more steward-like in our ownership, how would our decisions be different?
There is such an opportunity for Amherst to be a shining city; neighborly, creative, entrepreneurial, coordinated. I think it helps to have some open and honest discussion about where we are at, and where we want to go.
Ira Bryck has lived in Amherst since 1993, ran the Family Business Center for 25 years, hosted the “Western Mass. Business Show” on WHMP for seven years, now coaches business leaders, and is a big fan of Amherst’s downtown.